Public libraries provide a vital, free space where people can learn and socialise, and they can also reduce loneliness and social isolation.

However, in 2017/18 only 33% of adults had used a public library service and between 2010 and 2016, 343 libraries closed, much higher than the government’s estimate of 110. We worked with Dorset Libraries to expand what libraries offer and to evolve them into cultural hubs.

Libraries as Cultural Hubs is a two-year Arts Council England National Lottery funded cultural development programme for two Dorset libraries
in Gillingham and Weymouth – both lacking in arts infrastructure and identified through research as wanting an improved community-led
cultural offer. The programme is being delivered by Dorset Library Service and our partner The Arts Development Company. Together with the local communities in Gillingham and Weymouth, we working to enhance the cultural offer as well as looking to create a sustainable arts model more closely connected to communities. The funded programme ran from May 2018 to July 2020 and included Artist in Residence programmes for children and adults as well as a range of author, music, arts, digital and dance events.

We want to ensure:

  • High-quality arts and culture reaches a wider audience
  • More people are encouraged to use the library services
  • Libraries enrich more lives and bring communities together

How we’re involved

  • We helped develop the funding bid after partnering a first stage consultation with the communities in Gilligham and Weymouth
  • We wrote the artists briefs for the 8 residencies and supported recruitment of all the artists
  • We support the Libraries as Cultural Hubs co-ordinator in her role working with the artists and programming activities. 
  • We are on the programme steering group
  • We will feed into the evaluation and reporting for the programme

Our impact

Key Facts

  • 86 artists employed
  • 8250 participants at events
  • 84 staff training days
  • 1745 live audience
  • 21 new commissions
  • 123 days of employment for artists
  • 756 exhibition/performance days

View the full report here

“This has made a big difference to me. Did I tell you I’ve been very ill? I don’t think of any of that when I come and see you, you’ve really encouraged me and given me hope with my poems.”
– Writing workshop participant

 Next Steps

• Libraries as Cultural Hubs has enabled the communities in Gillingham and Weymouth to actively collaborate with the Library Service and
plan integrated community events. Gillingham Library plan to participate in Gillingham Green Week and Gillingham Walking Festival and our relationship with the Weymouth LGBT community was strengthened by the library service hosting Storytime with Mama G as part of Weymouth’s inaugural Gay Pride event. Developing the concept of libraries as a community space for performance, we are now being approached by artists who wish to use the space, as well as arts organisations such as Activate Performing Arts. We plan to host community workshops to support the Inside Out Dorset Festival Sense of Unity in 2021.

  • Having held successful adult and children’s events at Gillingham Library we would like to explore the concept of using other rural libraries as venues for touring performers. We will continue to build networks with health partners and agencies to offer a range of arts and health programmes with appropriate professional support. We are currently delivering arts programmes as one of the partners for My Creative Life, a pilot project to deliver adult day care differently.
  • Let’s Create (Arts Council England’s new 10-year Strategy 2020-2030) declares that public libraries provide “a vital resource for the development of creativity and the promotion of culture…” and we look forward to developing the Libraries as Cultural Hubs offer in collaboration with our local communities, potential partners and Friend’s Groups across our network of 23 rural and town libraries. We recognise that the cultural offer would be different for each library, but a collaborative approach will enable us to contribute to cultural communities and offer opportunities for individuals to develop and express creativity. We will look to work with education providers to offer young people access to a range of cultural activities and continue to help build stronger happier communities, develop readers and writers, promote digital literacy and support social prescribing.


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Arts Council England